Friday, February 24, 2017

White Custards and a Short Custard History Primer

White Custard 

Recipe Provenance
The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

The Recipe: White Custards
Set a quart of new milk in a skillet of hot water & let it boil, and add the whites of 8 eggs well beaten, sweeten to the palate & flavour with vanilla or anything you please. Stir the custard all the time it is boiling.


About Custards
The word custard today refers to a concoction of milk and eggs that is cooked either on top of a stove or baked in an oven. These custards are thick and firm when cool. However, custard can also be made into a thinner sauce used to pour over bread puddings, fruit, etc. 

The term custard is derived from the French word croustade, meaning an uncovered pastry case (meant to be filled with a cooked milk and egg mixture). Therefore, the name for the case is actually now what we use to refer to the firm, thick filling. Interestingly, custards in Asia are traditionally made without milk; instead, water and sometimes oil are combined with eggs to make the custard. 

Custard recipes actually can be traced back as far as the Roman days and can be found in Apicius, a collections of Roman recipes written in Vulgar Latin (the Latin of the common people) believed to have been compiled in the late 4th century or early 5th century AD. The name Apicius probably comes from a term used back then to denote a lover of fine food, possibly inspired by Marcus Gavius Apicius, a Roman gourmet who lived during the 1st century AD.

Apicius contains several custard recipes such as brain custard, vegetable and brain custard, elderberry custard, rose custard and the one below which is for a Nut Custard. Note that this recipe contains milk, eggs, broth and oil which combines both the eastern and western custard traditions:

[129] ANOTHER DISH, WHICH CAN BE TURNED OVER [A NUT CUSTARD] ALITER PATINA VERSATILIS

THE DISH, CALEED TURN-OVER, IS THUS MADE CRUSH VERY FINE WALNUTS AND HAZELNUTS TOAST THEM AND CRUSH WITH HONEY, MIX IN PEPPER, BROTH, MILK, EGGS AND A LITTLE OIL.


Later Medieval custard recipes are found in Libellus de arte coquinaria, An Early Northern Cookery Book, edited by Rudolph Grewe and Constance B. Hieatt (2001), a translation of the oldest known collections of European recipes written sometime during the Middle Ages. The original text of the cookbook is believed to be lost, but there are four collections of recipes (codices) that appear to all come from it. They are written in the local vernacular languages of northern Europe: Danish, Icelandic and Low German. There are about 35 recipes contained in these four separate codices, and the oldest might date back as far as the 12th century. There are several recipes for custards including Larded Milk, Gilded Milk, and this recipe:

Almonds in a Pie:Make thick milk of almond kernels. Make a shell of dough, pour the milk into it and cover the top with the same dough. Salt it, and bake it in a hot oven.

Notice that no eggs are used in this custard recipe, just almond milk and salt cooked in a pastry case. This must have been a recipe used on fast days when no eggs, dairy, butter, meat etc. were allowed to be consumed.

A set of recipes from the very late Medieval period/early classical period in the 16th century, Livre fort excellent de Cuisine (The Most Excellent Book of Cookery) has custard recipes for herb custard, custards served with roulade of venison, and tartlets.

By the 17th century, custards flavored with almonds, orange-flower water, orange, spices, and rice were quite popular. Here is a recipe from Gervase Markham's 1615 publication, The English Housewife (London):


Otherways to make a White Pot._ Take a quart of sweet cream and boil it, then put to it two ounces of picked rice, some beaten mace, ginger, cinamon, and sugar, let these steep in it till it be cold, and strain into it eight yolks of eggs and but two whites, then put in two ounces of clean washed and picked currans, and some salt, stir all well together, and bake it in paste, earthen pan, dish, or deep bason; being baked, trim it with some sugar, and comfits of orange, cinamon, or white biskets.

Here is another Markham recipe for a baked custard:

To make a Cream Tart in the Italian fashion to eat cold._ Take twenty yolks of eggs, and two quarts of cream, strain it with a little salt, saffron, rose-water, juyce of orange, a little white-wine, and a pound of fine sugar, then bake it in a deep dish with some fine cinamon, and some canded pistaches stuck on it, and when it is baked, white muskedines. Thus you may do with the whites of the eggs, and put in no spices.

Here is another 17th century custard recipe that is flavored with orange-flower water. It is from The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened by Sir Kenelm Sigby Knight (Britain, 1669):



A GOOD DISH OF CREAM

Boil a quart of good Cream with sticks of Cinnamon and quartered Nutmeg and Sugar to your taste. When it is boiled enough to have acquired the taste of the Spice, take the whites of six New laid eggs, and beat them very well with a little Fresh-cream, then pour them to your boyling Cream, and let them boil a walm or two. Then let it run through a boulter, and put a little Orange flower-water to it, and sliced bread; and so serve it up cold.



In the 17th century in Britain, fruit creams also became popular; these incorporated fruit puree into the custard and were sometimes called fools



Interestingly, custard tarts could also be made into fanciful designs such these from Edward Kidder's Receipts of Pastry and Cookery for the Use of His Scholars (Britain, 1702):





Of course, ice creams are often made with a custard base. Here is a recipe for an ice cream made with a custard base from a cookbook published in America by a British author, The New Art of Cookery, According to Present Practice by Richard Briggs (Philadelphia, 1792):


And not to be ignored was the invention of custard powder in 1837 by Alfred Bird in Birmingham, England. Custard powder was revolutionary in that it was a mixture of flavored cornstarch (cornflower in the UK) and sugar which was meant to be heated with milk; no eggs were required to thicken the custard-revolutionary indeed!

(Source: Pinterest)


About This Recipe

This is one of those recipes in the manuscript that just does not work the way it is written. It is written for egg whites only, no egg yolks which makes it trickier to prepare successfully. I originally deciphered the number of egg whites to be 3 but after testing the recipe numerous times I came to realize it must have been an 8! I also consulted other period recipes for White Custards (and there are very few). Here is one from The Woman Suffrage Cook Book by Hattie Burr (1886, 1890):







After numerous failed attempts at cooking this on the stove-top, and after reading other period recipes, I realized these egg white custards do indeed need to be baked in an oven otherwise they do not really set up properly. Finally, I altered the recipe so that it can yield enough to fill six ramekins that fit neatly into one large rectangular casserole dish.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: White Custards

Ingredients:

  • Whites of 6 Large Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar, Divided
  • 3 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

Directions:


  1. Heat oven to 350º F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg whites and about half the sugar. Set aside.
  3. In a three-quart saucepan, whisk together the milk and the remaining sugar (the addition of the sugar to the milk will help prevent the milk from scorching). Set over medium heat and bring just to the boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
  4. Temper the eggs into the milk by ladling about 1 cup of the milk mixture into the eggs and whisk together. Then add the egg mixture into the saucepan with the milk. Whisk together. 
  5. Add the vanilla extract and whisk. 
  6. Place six custard ramekins in a large (10" x 15") rectangular casserole dish. Pour the custard evenly into into the ramekins. Pour boiling water into the casserole dish until it reaches a level half-way up the ramekins. Do not cover.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the custard is firm and jiggles just slightly when shaken.


References in Addition to Primary Sources Noted in Post






  • Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University, 2014)
  • Oxford English Dictionary


  • Thursday, February 23, 2017

    Coconut Pudding in a Paste and Sourcing Coconuts in 19th Century Maryland


    Recipe Provenance
    The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

    Cocoanut Pudding
    1 lb. of cocoanut grated, 1 lb. sugar, 12 oz.’s of Butter beat to a cream. the whites of 16 eggs beat to a high froth. Wine glass of rose water, wine & Brandy.


    About Coconut

    Coconut comes from Cocos nuclear (coconut palms) which are native to tropical areas of Asia. 


    Coconut Palm (Florida Keys)
    source: wikimedia commons

    The exact knowledge of how coconuts reached areas outside its native Asia is unclear. Dum, a type of palm coconut tree, is documented as a food source going back to ancient Egypt.  Venetian trader Marco Polo (1254-1324) brought coconuts with him on his travels to serve as both food and drink. This may be one of the earliest documented accounts of the movement of coconuts outside of Asia. However, coconuts can float and may have traveled on their own to new and distant lands long before Polo took them to new lands. 

    There is further debate as to when coconuts reached the Americas. One theory is that the Spanish introduced coconuts to Puerto Rico; another theory claims that the Portuguese introduced them to Brazil in the 16th-century. While coconuts were being imported into North America by the middle of the nineteenth-century, if not earlier, it was not until the late nineteenth-century until coconut cultivation reached Florida. Anecdotally, Palm Beach, Florida supposedly received its name in 1878 when a vessel called Providencia bound from Havana to Europe washed ashore with its load of coconuts. 


    25 April 1890 Los Angeles Herald
    (source: wikimedia commons)

    Coconut in American Recipes
    Though coconuts may have not been cultivated in the USA until the late 19th century, they were available earlier to American cooks. Coconuts (or cocoanuts as they were often spelled in the 19th century cookery books) were widely used in North America as early as 1850 and possibly earlier. Nineteenth century recipes that use coconut exist for ice cream, cakes, puddings/custards, pies, cheesecakes, cookies, and creams. 

    Here is a recipe from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book by Catherine Beecher (New York, 1850) for a cake with grated coconut:



    Here are two more 19th century recipes that use coconut:

    The Great Western Cook Book or Table Receipts Adapted to Western Housewifery by Angelina Maria Collins (New York, 1857)


    Domestic Cookery by Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (Baltimore, 1869)
    Here are some advertisements from 19th Century Maryland publications that advertise imports of coconuts and palm nuts, which very well may have been coconuts:


    1837-8 Matchett's Baltimore Directory
    Notice that Palm Nuts and Cocoa Nuts are both listed; it is possible the Palm Nuts are actually coconuts and the Cocoa Nuts (written as two words) are actually the raw cocoa beans used for making chocolate. I am still investigating this.
    3 September 1840 American and Commercial
    Daily Advertiser, Baltimore
    12 November 1864 Easton Gazette


    Modern Recipe Adaptation: Coconut Pudding in a Paste

    I chose to make this recipe as a pudding in a paste (coconut custard pie) but you can bake it in individual custard ramekins without a pastry bottom. Note that the custard has no dairy in it so it is not creamy; instead, it has a fluffy texture.

    Ingredients:
    • One Sheet of Puff Pastry, Thawed
    • 6 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
    • 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
    • Whites of Four Large Eggs
    • 1 Teaspoon Rosewater
    • 1 Tablespoon White Wine
    • 1 Tablespoon Brandy
    • 4 Ounces Grated Coconut (About 1-1/2 Cups)
    Directions:
    1. Heat oven to 350º F.
    2. Line a pie plate with pastry crust dough and place on a parchment lines baking sheet. Set aside.
    3. Using an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar until creamy.
    4. Add the egg whites, rosewater, wine, and brandy. Beat until well-blended and frothy.
    5. Using a runner spatula, gently mix in the coconut.
    6. Pour the pudding mixture into the prepared pie dish.
    7. Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until the pudding is set in the middle and lightly golden brown on top.

    References:
    • Davidson, Alan, ed.. The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002.
    • Flandrin, Jean-Louis and Massimo Montanari. eds., Food, A Culinary History, 1999.
    • Smith, Andrew, ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, 2013.

    Wednesday, February 22, 2017

    Wine Blanc Mange



    Recipe Provenance
    The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

    The Recipe: Wine Blanc Mange
    Pour a pint of warm water on one oz. of Isinglass. Let it simmer 8 or 10 hours. Strain the juice of 3 large lemons on 1 ¼ lb. of sugar, rasp one lemon, add a pint of wine. Put the whole on the fire till it boil a few minutes—strain it, have the yelks of 6 eggs well beaten pour it on them, let it simmer & boil it very few minutes, cool it & put it in moulds.


    About the Recipe 
    Click here to read about the history of blanc mange in my post for Lemon Blanc Mange, a recipe that is very similar to this one, except it has less wine.

    Wine Blanc Mange: Modern Recipe Adaptation

    Ingredients:
    • 2 Cups White Wine
    • 3 Cups Sugar
    • 1 Cups Cold Water
    • 1-Ounce Package Knox Unflavored Gelatin
    • Juice of 3 Lemons
    • Grated Zest of 1 Lemon
    • 6 Egg Yolks

    Directions:
    1. Place the wine and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for 10 minutes, until the mixture has reduced and is syrupy.
    2. While the wine/sugar mixture is cooking, place the cold water in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle all of the gelatin on top and set it aside.
    3. When the wine/sugar syrup is ready, add the lemon juice and zest to it and stir. Then, add this mixture to the cold gelatin in the large mixing bowl and stir well. The mixture will still be too hot to add the raw egg yolks without tempering. Follow the next step carefully to temper the eggs.
    4. Place the egg yolks in a small mixing bowl and whisk. Then, add about 1/4 cup of the hot gelatin mixture to the egg yolks and stir well.  Then, add the egg yolks to the larger mixing bowl with the hot gelatin. Stir well. Note: You need to do it this way to avoid the egg yolks from cooking and scrambling, so don't leave this step out!
    5. Pour the mixture into a medium-sized decorative jelly mold and refrigerate several hours until the jelly is completely firm.
    6. Place the mold in a bowl of hot water for 30-60 seconds to help release it from the mold.



    Tuesday, February 21, 2017

    Ginger Cakes and Shopping for Spices in 19th Century Baltimore


    Ginger Cakes

    Recipe Provenance
    The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

    The Recipe: Ginger Cakes 
    Mrs. Nicols Darley
    Take 3 lb. of flour, one lb. & quarter of Butter & Lard mixed, one lb. & quarter of Sugar, a teacupful of ginger, half a pint of cream & half a [ ] of molasses.

    Where to Buy Spices in 19th Century Baltimore
    Below is an advertisement for a variety of ground spices, including ginger, as well as crude or whole spices. Paca Mills was located at No. 68 Bowly's Wharf in Baltimore and was under the proprietorship of George W. Wait and Son.



    In trying to pinpoint exactly where Bowly's Wharf was located, I found George Wait & Sons business advertisement in the Matchett's Baltimore City Directory for 1851 listed as being located at 68 South St. with a manufacturing site located on West Lexington St.



    Finally, here is where I think that location is today:



    Modern Recipe Adaptation: Ginger Cakes
    Yield: About 26 Cakes (Cookies)

    Ingredients:
    • 2 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
    • 1 Tablespoon Ground Ginger
    • 6 Tablespoons Salted Butter, Softened
    • 1/4 Cup Lard or Vegetable Shortening
    • 1/2 Cup + 1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
    • 1/2 Cup Molasses
    • 1/4 Cup Heavy Cream
    Directions:
    1. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and ginger. Set aside.
    2. In a large mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter, lard/shortening, sugar, molasses, and heavy cream.  Beat until fluffy.
    3. Add the flour/ginger mixture and beat until the flour is completely mixed into the wet ingredients.
    4. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic, and then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
    5. While the dough is in the refrigerator, heat the oven to 375º F.  Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
    6. Make 1-ounce (2 tablespoons) balls of the dough. Too prevent sticking, you will need to dampen your hands to roll the dough into balls. Place the dough balls on the prepared baking sheets and, applying light pressure, flatten them with the bottom of small bowl that has been dipped in water to prevent sticking.
    7. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until firm.